Dr Rajesh Lalloo, Chief Technical Officer, OptimusBio
There is currently a global concern regarding disease transmission, ranging from viruses such as COVID-19 to bacteria, fungi, parasites and other disease-causing agents. One of the most effective methods for the prevention of disease transmission still remains hand washing, which the WHO recently advised as the primary method for prevention of spread of COVID-19. The same principle applies to cleaning, where a proper safe and biodegradable detergent will be perfectly suitable for cleaning during the pandemic. Some current opinions indicate that at the virus particle level, this is more effective than sanitization, because of the detergent action on the viral outer fatty layer.
A downside to handwashing is that it is not always effective due to human habit (the reluctance to make the effort to wash hands frequently) and practical accessibility to hand washing facilities in public places, schools, malls, areas with limited accessibility to clean water, etc. Another disadvantage is that detergents cannot be practically used to quickly clean items that we frequently touch, such as keyboards, cell phones, food prep areas, school desks, etc.
To address these constraints, hand sanitizers and surface sanitizers have become a practical product choice. The convenience of being able to clean and sanitize hands and surfaces anywhere and at any time is most appealing and a valuable method of reducing disease transmission. For this reason, sanitizing should be viewed as a complementary option to hand washing and cleaning, that addresses some of the constraints, when hand washing and conventional cleaning is not easily possible. Key practical advantages include affordability and accessibility of these products, but one should be careful to ensure that these do not contain ingredients that pose usage risk, health risks or environmental damage.
While there are some very effective sanitizing agents, many have more recently been shown to have toxic and environmentally damaging effects, and are not recommended for general consumer use. As an example, one of the most popular ingredients in consumer handwashes and antibacterials is Triclosan. The FDA has issued a cautionary against this compound and several others (a full list is available on the FDA website). Other classes of chlorine and quaternary ammonium-based are also risky to the health and the environment, yet the ingredients remain popular in consumer products.
The most popular sanitizing products appear to be mainly alcohol based (generally above 60%), yet some do contain environmentally damaging ingredients and the FDA cautionary ingredients, so it is wise to check the ingredients regarding the product you purchase. Recent data suggest that ethanol 80%, containing 0.125% hydrogen peroxide and 1.45% glycerine is effective against COVID-19, within a 30 second contact period.
Alcohol sanitizers are mostly effective but also have some disadvantages in that they can dehydrate the skin, cause skin irritation, can enter the bloodstream with frequent use, can be dangerous to the eyes, risky in the hands of children and are not acceptable to certain cultural groups (e.g. Muslims). Alcohol can also damage some types of surfaces, when used as a surface sanitizer. Other limitations include the high VOC (volatile organic carbon), which means they can pose a respiratory risk, are flammable, environmentally damaging and on the prohibited list of ingredients for green certified products. Now interestingly, to trade potable alcohol, you have to have a liquor license, so the commercially available sanitizers are mostly denatured alcohols, typically containing co-solvents such as methanol, ethyl, acetate, etc. These products require hazmat transport, storage and usage conditions, but these requirements appear not to be fully adhered to during this period. There is also a risk that these can be consumed as potable products, with detrimental health effects. Having said this, alcohol-based sanitizers do have their place in specialized and sterile environments, such as in controlled disinfection, medical, research and pathology areas, where the benefits outweigh the risks, but the widespread, indiscriminate consumer use, does pose some questions.
Another disadvantage of the typical sanitization products (mainly chlorine, quaternary ammonium and alcohol) is that they cannot be used in tunnel systems or fogging systems, due to the health, dermatological, respiratory and flammability risk. Short of consideration of other innovative options, the WHO has advised that these systems should not be used for COVID-19 primary disease risk mitigation.
OptimusBio has taken all of these attributes into consideration. In line with our company ethos of people well-bring and environmental preservation. We have long since developed a handwash as the primary enabler to disease control, containing only non-toxic, biodegradable and environmentally responsible ingredients. We also have a wide range of Global Green Tag certified cleaning products.
As complementary products, we have also developed an alcohol-free Hand and Surface Sanitizer that works on both surfaces and hands and a detergent based Sanitizing Cleaner. Our product does not contain any of the FDA cautionary substances and instead uses natural biodegradable (OECD 301) essential oils known to have a long history of use with antimicrobial effects. The concept of essential oil use has precedent in the literature against viruses such as avian influenza and avian bronchitis coronavirus. Viricidal activity of essential oils, which are lipophilic by nature, is probably due to disruption of the viral membrane or interference with viral envelope proteins involved in host cell attachment. Although selection of resistant mutants is possible, it has been reported that inactivation of virus by lipophilic essential oils is time dependent and that infectious virus remaining after treatment are still sensitive to the essential oils making selection of resistant mutants unlikely. In contrast to the short exposure time of volatile alcohol-based solvents (usually a few seconds), essential oil-based products have a longer contact time on surfaces and penetrate the pores of the skin. This makes it ideal in fogging and tunnel applications. All ingredients in our products are food safe, readily biodegradable and does not infringe on any cultural preferences, while cleaning, sanitizing and moisturizing in one simple step.
We trust that you find this information useful in making your own product choices based on your own preferences. Our intention is only to make you aware of the pros and cons of various ingredients and products. I have kept this article simple and deliberately left out scientific terminology, to make it easy for everyone to understand. Controlled disinfection, surgical needs, hospital disease control and sterile work areas are outside the scope of this article, as the article is focused on wide scale general consumer hygiene options, towards reducing the risk of primary disease transmission.